Cafe in San Francisco Monetary District sharing Yemeni tradition by espresso

At Sana’a Cafe, a new business in San Francisco’s Financial District, there is a lot of history in just one latte.

Named after the capital of Yemen, Sana’a Cafe serves up traditional Yemeni coffee and pastries, using distinct spices like cinnamon and cardamom. 

Sam Mardaei, one of the managers, said he and the team are proud to share their Yemeni-style coffee with new guests.

“We are just trying to bring our culture, to the city, you know, into the states in general,” he explained. 

And it is a culture with deep roots. Some of the most ancient traces of coffee cultivation began in the country of Yemen, and Mardaei takes great delight in serving others with that history in mind. 

“That’s why we have the word ‘Mocha,’ Mocha is actually a city in the country of Yemen – ‘Mokha’ – in Arabic,” Mardaei said.

But in a time of great turmoil in the Middle East, Yemen has been facing severe challenges of their own, including an ongoing civil war, a famine, and proxy geopolitical involvement.

“Yemen has always been in those ups and downs you know. But, thank God, we always, always find a way to solve our problems,” Mardaei said, emphasizing that Sanaa Cafe’s way of solving it is by offering up the sweeter side of their community. 

Being from New York, he said he has dealt with his fair share of negative stereotypes. 

“You are always going to have that negative perception from other people, you gotta take the positive with the negative. That’s how the world operates you know,” he said.

But the residual effects of 9/11 aren’t the only concern for the Arab and Muslim community, The Council on American-Islamic Relations received 756 civil rights complaints in California in the past year, documenting hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination, and more. 

That’s why Mardaei cares deeply about introducing his community to the neighborhood. Donovan Vickers, a student at the nearby Academy of Arts, loves that the cafe is one of the few shops open late in the neighborhood.

“I was just looking for cafes to come during breaks, then I came over. Then, my mans behind the counter, he was super helpful, helping me try new things, so I feel like I’m a regular now,” Vickers told KPIX. 

Whether it’s the distinct eastern spices or the variety of pastries, Mardaei said the cafe is just getting started.

“That’s how you introduce yourself to other cultures, is trying other things you know. People love it, so just ask, ask questions; we are all ears,” Mardaei said.

Sana’a Cafe is expanding with more locations in New York and Oakland. 

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